As I’ve mentioned many times over the years, I am a high school science teacher by day. While doing the research for today’s story, I was reminded of a something that happened many years ago at my job. A former superintendent told us that we could no longer have our annual holiday party anywhere within the county limits. The rationale was simple: We are role models for our students and we shouldn’t be seen consuming alcohol. The issue was quickly resolved with an agreement that we could have our celebration anywhere that we wished, but no student could be on staff at the restaurant at the time we were there.
There is no doubt that teaching is one of a number of professions where we are expected to have higher standards than other professions.
I like to joke that teachers don’t get pregnant, since that would imply that something is going on that shouldn’t be. Instead all teachers have their babies delivered the old fashioned way: by a stork.
Well, today’s story doesn’t involve a stork, but the baby was delivered in a more unusual way: By a dog.
So, let’s take a trip back in time to the Great Depression and make a visit to the Pearl River, Louisiana home of 24-year-old Effie Hinton Crawford and her husband 44-year-old Louis Elijah Crawford. The couple was the proud parents of two boys: four-year-old Louis, Jr. and 2-year-old James Edward Crawford.
Together, the four of them lived in a one-room, 25 x 14 foot (7.6 x 4.3 meters), clapboard-sided cabin. Their sole source of income was the $26/month that Louis earned by working for the federal government’s WPA or Works Progress Administration. That would be approximately $468/month today. Hurting badly for money, the couple made the decision to refrain from marital relations, since there was simply no way that they could afford to support a third child.
Neither one could have imagined it, but the Crawford’s world would be turned completely upside-down and inside-out by an incident that occurred on November 11, 1936.
Mrs. Crawford said that she had been sitting on the porch of their home when her eyes caught an animal running through the weeds. Wild animals were nothing unusual when living deep in the piney woods, but there was something very different this time. Effie heard what sounded to be like a whimper and then observed that it was a dog carrying some sort of bundle with its teeth.
“It was just about the fall of the night.” She said, “This big, black dog came trotting through the brush with something white in his mouth. When he saw me, he stopped, and I was so scared all I could do was stand there.” She later stated, “I’d never seen the dog before. Most the dogs around here are hounds and this one looked like a brindle bull.”
“Then while I was looking the white thing moved and I heard a baby’s cry. When I realize it was a baby, I got a cold chill.” She described what happened next: “I ran off the porch. Put that down, you! Put it down! Clap my hands and made like I was going to hit him and that scared him off.”
Effie attempted to restrain the dog, but she was unable to do so. Her attention then turned to what her senses had interpreted could be a baby. As she carefully unwrapped the filthy square of cotton, she discovered a small infant boy who appeared to be just days old facing downward toward the ground.
Her motherly instincts immediately kicked in and she raced the baby into the house. Effie wrapped the newborn in a clean towel and then proceeded to place him between the covers of the couple’s bed. For additional warmth, she lit a fire in their makeshift stove, which was little more than a modified oil drum. She next grabbed a baby bottle and prepared condensed milk to feed the child. Lastly, Mrs. Crawford summoned the help of Mrs. Lizzie Crawford, who was both a midwife and a distant relative. After examination, the 8-pound, rosy-cheeked, blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby was declared to be in relatively good health.
When her husband Louis arrived home later, she told him of this bizarre incident. At first he was certain that she must be joking around. But Effie wasn’t. Not this time. She led him over to the bed and there he saw the baby for the first time.
Clearly, this baby had to belong to someone. Mr. Crawford contacted Parish officials and told them of his wife’s discovery. It wasn’t long before word spread throughout the community and crowds started to gather around the Crawford home. It seemed like everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the baby.
This deeply religious group felt that the baby was a divine gift intended not only for the Crawfords, but for the community as a whole. Some fifty different people offered to adopt the baby, but Effie and Louis quickly decided that they wanted to become this child’s parents.
“We’re going to call him Moses because it was found by a miracle.” Effie declared. “It’s just like Moses in the bullrushes. I think we were meant to keep him.”
Miracle or not, the Crawfords were now celebrities. Word of her discovery quickly made the national papers and soon reporters were descending upon their small community.
Against the wishes of the Crawfords, the juvenile officer for St. Tammany parish, signed an order removing the baby from their household. Baby Moses was taken by welfare officer Mrs. Emily Hasbro and a WPA nurse to the Charity Hospital in New Orleans, some 40 miles (about 65 kilometers) away. Physicians examined the baby and confirmed that he was in good health, despite his exposure to the elements. He was placed in an incubator and the name Moses was written in large letters across its front.
Investigators began their search for the parents of the child. Truck driver Sam Ferguson, a neighbor of the Crawfords, told of seeing a young couple walking on a road about one-mile from the Crawford home. He added that in addition to a small girl who walked alongside them, he observed that they had a large dog and that the woman was holding a small baby.
Word was immediately sent to all nearby police to keep an eye out for the suspected couple.
“We are looking for the couple,” Police Chief P. A. Saxon of nearby Slidell said. He added, “If they have a baby with them they are all right, but if they haven’t, we know we’ve got the right couple.” A statewide search failed to locate the suspected parents.
Effie continued her plea to get Baby Moses back. “I found that baby. I saved his life. I’m not going to give him up. I’ll move heaven and earth to get him back.”
On November 13th, Thomas Sancton, a reporter from the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, entered the story. He wasn’t sure where the couple’s cabin was, so he stopped at the home of Louis’s uncle Fletcher Crawford to ask for directions.
Call it a hunch, a white lie, or whatever, but Sancton convinced Fletcher that Effie’s story was false. Fletcher took Sancton up to the house and upon entering, Effie asked, “What do you want?”
To which Fletcher replied, “Effie, here’s a newspaper reporter. He said you told how you are that mother of the baby you said you found with a dog the other night. Did you?”
Effie broke into tears and stated, “I ain’t told nobody nothing. Not nobody.” Effie then asked the reporter to step outside. She walked barefoot alongside him to the pigsty and admitted what had really happened.
“I don’t want them all to hear,” Effie said. “I told my husband. He knows.”
As she was telling her story, Louis Crawford came outside and the reporter asked how he felt about it, to which he replied, “I love Effie.”
The cat was now out of the bag. Effie now claimed that she had given birth to Baby Moses around 11 in the evening on Sunday November 8, 1936. But was she really the mother? Could this all be another lie so that she could convince the authorities to let her keep the baby? The only way to know for sure would be to have a doctor check to see if she had recently given birth.
Mrs. Crawford was taken to be examined by Dr. F. F. Young, Jr. and Dr. H. E. Gautreaux. What’s a bit unusual about these two doctors was that they were the Tammany parish coroner and assistant coroner, respectively. Their report stated that Effie Crawford had given birth to a baby “without the question of a doubt within the past few days.”
“It was about 11 o’clock and I have been laboring for about an hour. I had to take matches and light a little pile of straw to give me enough light. It was awful dark. After the child was born I wrapped it in a cloth and laid it behind a little building there and I went into the house.”
“In the morning Louis went to work with the WPA. I kept the baby in the house all day Monday, and hid him out behind the stove Monday night. Then went to work Tuesday. I was thinking all day of what to do. Then I thought of the dog.
“When Lewis came home Tuesday I pulled back the bed covers and showed him the baby and told him how a big dog came through the woods with the baby in its mouth and how I took it away from him.”
District Attorney C. Sidney Frederick told the press that Mrs. Crawford had broken no known criminal statute and would not be charged with a crime. As for the baby, custody would be decided by the parish juvenile authorities.
While the courts tried to hash out this mess and determine who should gain custody of the baby, there was trouble-a-brewing at the Crawford residence. That’s because Effie accused her husband’s younger brother Frank of being the baby daddy, which he vehemently denied.
“She named me because she saw I was smart and I was on to her ways. I never laid an hand on her except once to shove her out of my mother’s house.” Frank continued, “We never liked her. She was a come-here. And if he’s not going to leave her, he’ll vacate too. That ain’t even his house; it’s his sisters. He ain’t got nothing. The chickens even ain’t his.”
Frank added, regarding his brother, “He says the doctor says she’s in no condition to move. She’s sick, he says. Well, I wish she died while she was about it.”
He wasn’t alone. The entire Crawford clan, which included Louis’ seven brothers, two sisters, their wives and husbands, and a 62-year-old widowed mother who all wanted him to leave his two-timing wife. There was talk of tar and feathering her and ultimately running her out of the forest completely. Fearing for her life, Deputy Sheriff Clarence Crawford, a relative by marriage, was ordered to protect Effie from any violence.
Louis was torn as to what he should do. At first, he stood by his wife and refused to give in to his family’s demands. He avowed that he would “stick with Effie through hell and high water until the end.” It wasn’t long before he changed his tune, later stating that he “would have to quit her when this thing’s over because it would ruin my character to live with her.”
On November 16, District Court Judge Robert D. Jones ruled that 8-day-old Baby Moses, who was still in the hospital suffering from a slight cold, could be returned to Effie Crawford as soon as physical conditions permitted.
The Judge stated, “This woman, misguided and errant though she was, has violated no prohibitory law of the state. Her actions were those of a woman driven frantic and desperate in fighting alone a battle in which she herself must have foreseen failure in defeat.”
He continued, “Many women would have abandoned their children rather than face the same terrifying circumstances. She is poor, as a thousands of others, but this cannot forfeit her rights.
“Her amazing fortitude in giving birth to this child under the horrible circumstances which surround her, and her insistent plea for the right to resume her burden of a child’s care and protection, impel us to believe that here the child will find sanctuary and be under the protection of the one who will gladly sacrifice all, if necessary, in the full discharge of that self-imposed trust.”
“It is certain that only the mother who conceived and bore the child can give it the understanding, love and affection it will so sorely need in its early future to overcome the sombre circumstances of its birth.”
The couple reconciled and picked their baby up at the hospital on Wednesday November 25th 1936.
Effie said, “We are going to name him Bert J. Moses Crawford. The Bert J. don’t mean anything, but we don’t want people calling him Moses.” Louis added, “It’s our’n baby and I don’t care which one of Effie’s stories was true – whether the dog brought the baby or whether Effie had him out behind the woodshed.”
The Christmas of 1936 proved to be a great one for the Crawford family. Not only did they celebrate having their new child home for the first time, but gifts of food, money, and clothing poured in from all over the country. Not just for the baby, but for Effie, Louis, and their two older children also.
The press did a follow-up story on Bert’s 1st birthday and everything was still going well. Bert was learning how to walk and talk, while everyone seemed to have put it all behind them. Effie was now back in the good graces of her husband’s family and the community seemed to act as if nothing had ever happened at all.
As time marched on, all of the people mentioned in this story passed on. 51-year-old father Louis Elijah Crawford left us on June 25, 1944. After remarrying, Effie Crawford Schultz died at age 85 on November 12, 1997. And Burt J. Moses Crawford was 73-years-old when he passed away on February 10, 2010.
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.